January 9, 2013 / Comments (0)

Hiking safely during the bushfire season

Bushfires - how to hike safely during bushfire season
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Bushfire burning through trees at night

Bushfire burning at night. Image courtesy of Free Stock Photos

With bushfires raging in New South Wales at the moment, it got me thinking again about bushfire safety and what I’d do if I was hiking and got caught out by a bushfire. Hiking safely during the bushfire season is something all hikers should consider. It seems an unlikely event though as I always check the weather conditions before I go hiking and I’d never go hiking on a day of total fire ban. In fact, I’m a bit of a weather wuss during summer and won’t hike if the temperature is forecast to exceed thirty degrees.

So I guess the first rule of hiking and bushfire safety is don’t be there. If that’s the first rule, then the second rule of bushfire safety must be don’t be there!!!

Anyway, more for my own benefit than my readers, I did a bit of research to see what official channels recommend.

Before you go hiking

Keep an eye on the weather forecasts in the days leading up to your planned hike.  Find out the ABC Local Radio station channel for the area in which you plan to hike and memorise it or better still, write it down and take it with you, or put it in your phone as a note. Even if it’s baking hot, take a long sleeved top and pants with you. Natural fibres are best. And good, sturdy shoes. Radiant is the biggest killer in a bushfire so protecting yourself as much as possible is essential.

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Pack a battery operated AM/FM radio so you can tune in for updates on ABC local radio if your phone is out of range of your network.

Spend time familiarising yourself with maps of the area in which you plan to hike, taking note of possible shelter points,  areas of cleared land, alternate access routes, and water sources such as dams, lakes, creeks etc. though it’s best to get advice from Park Rangers as to whether or not these water sources indicated on the map actually have water in them.

In case of emergency contacts

Parks Victoria has a PDF brochure on their website titled Hiking and Camping in Parks and Forests – Bushfire Safety Tips for Visitors which also supports my “Don’t be there” rule and explains the Fire Danger Ratings in Victoria and offers the following emergency information:

  • Call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667. Callers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech/communication impairment can call the National Relay Service on 1800 555 677
  • Visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au
  • Tune in to the emergency broadcasters: ABC Local  Radio, commercial radio and designated community radio stations
  • Download the FireReady smartphone app
  • Watch Sky News on television
  • Visit an accredited Visitor Information Centre
  • @CFA_Updates
  • www.facebook.com/cfavic
  • For park and forest closures and information, go to www.parks.vic.gov.au or call 13 19 63
  • For road closures and traffic information, go to www.vicroads.vic.gov.au.

What to chuck in the car

Take woolen blankets and a light weight woolen jumper. Throw in extra food and water in case the bushfire closes road access and cuts you off from civilization. Take enough to last you at least three days.

What to do if you’re caught out in the open by a bushfire

There are certain things you can do to improve your chance of survival if you’re caught in the open during a bushfire. You’re unlikely to be able to outrun a fire and will need to seek shelter.

Never ever run uphill to escape a fire. Fires race uphill.  If possible, move across the slope, away from the fire front, then down the slope towards the rear of the fire. The fire will be less intense here and travelling slower.

Find shelter – a shed, vehicle, dam, creek/river or other water source but do not seek shelter in an elevated water tank unless you want to be boiled.

If there is no shelter and you’re in the open, clear as much ‘fuel’ away from you as possible and shelter from the radiant heat behind a fallen tree, your backpack, rocks, earth or a hollow in the ground. Stay down low where the air is cleaner and protect all skin from exposure to the radiant heat. As soon as it’s safe to do so once the fire front has past, move to burnt ground. Don’t attempt to run through a bushfire, unless it’s an absolute last resort and the flames are no more than waist high and you can see burnt ground on the other side of the flames. Don’t douse yourself with water either as it may boil and severely burn your skin.  Breathe through a wet handkerchief, towel, shirt etc.

If you’ve got access to your car, and if it’s safe to do so, drive it to an area where the ground is clear and away from trees. Note that a car does not keep you safe from radiant heat and the heat might be so intense it burns your car. Keep the engine running. Wind up the windows and recirculate the air in the car. Get down on the floor of the car and cover yourself/selves with the woolen blanket. Wait the agonising few minutes until the fire front has passed before surfacing and moving to an area that has already been burnt.

Take responsibility!

As with any hiking adventure, let someone know you before you go both where you’re going and your intended route. Ultimately, accept responsibility for your own safety. Don’t expect a Park Ranger, Police, the CFA/Fire Brigade or a State Government authority to issue you with a personal warning or to rescue you in case of a bushfire. Think of yourself as being on your own and act accordingly.

Last modified: November 26, 2016

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